by Grant J Everett
Many people who experience symptoms the medical model term as “psychotic” face the challenge of having to figure out what is true or untrue. We may see or hear things that aren’t there, or feel as though people are out to get us. So what can we do about these things? Here are a few hard-won insights from a mental health veteran who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Challenge your beliefs
Also known as “reality basing”, challenging your beliefs means taking a minute away from what you’re impulsively feeling in order to put two and two together…even if you may not necessarily want the answer to be four! I know from experience that this can be a very effective technique for managing paranoia and social anxiety. You can use reality basing by actively thinking beyond your initial sense of paranoia and trying to figure out what’s more likely: after all, were those strangers really laughing at you for no reason? You weren’t doing anything to attract their mocking, were you? Don’t you think they have something better to do than watch you walk past? Are those feelings of danger realistic?
Reality basing is an essential weapon to have when it comes to fighting psychotic symptoms, but it can be difficult. Many will actually find solace in their symptoms, and choosing to let go of a long-held belief that you’ve suddenly come to see as false can be terrifying and embarrassing. Also, nobody likes to admit that they’re wrong. However, squaring up to reality is an essential part of recovery, and it will make you stronger in the long run.
The nature of delusion can be a prickly topic in other ways, though. For instance, take the long-standing disagreements between Creationists (Christians who believe the world was created by God in six days, followed by the universe’s first Allocated Day Off) and Evolutionists (who believe we have monkeys for uncles). Each side directly contradicts the other and calls them wrong. To an Evolutionist, a Creationist is the one who’s deluded, and vice versa. How are we meant to be able to tell who’s right?
This management technique is just like it sounds: when something tough comes up, talk yourself through it. You don’t necessarily have to do this out loud or anything! Self-talk means counseling yourself by reaffirming things that you already know. For instance, when I feel like screaming my head off at somebody because they’re being an inconsiderate jerk, I’ll often do some self-talk by reminding myself that I’ll stop being angry soon and that I shouldn’t say or do anything when I’m furious. The answer should present itself pretty quickly, even if it’s as simple as leaving the room for half an hour.
Put your ego aside
Admitting you might be wrong is painful, but it’s necessary from time to time. Sadly, many people may go through their time on this planet shackled by delusion, which may rob them of much of their lives in the process. My suggestion is to admit that we are only human and don’t have to be perfect, and to simply consider the odds: what’s the chance that you are the only correct person on the entire planet, and everyone else is deluded?
Talk to someone
While an open, honest dialogue with a good therapist is invaluable, you don’t need a PhD to listen. It’s great to know some trusted people you can bounce ideas off, especially if they’re the honest sort who won’t hesitate to tell you if you’re not being very realistic. Please note that it may be inadvisable to have talks about psychosis with people you don’t know all that well, as this could freak them out if they have no lived experience of mental health issues.
Insight is the ability to see yourself and your words and deeds as others see them. It’s a very difficult skill to sharpen, but one that you may find indispensable.
Just like everyone has a “blind spot” in the centre of their field of vision (where the optic nerve joins the brain), we also have a “blind spot” with how other people see us. The best way to get around this mental blind spot is insight. Gaining insight will require you to become proficient in all the coping techniques we’ve mentioned so far: being able to challenge our beliefs, applying thoughtful self-talk, putting our egos aside, recognising why other people believe what they believe, and talking with trusted people.
Don’t let it hold you back
Psychosis can be tough, and although we may not have a choice in whether we develop symptoms or not, we do have a choice in how we respond to them. Better yet, we can do things to prevent them. Some choices may be harder than others, sure, but they are still choices. Avoiding illicit substance use is always a good one. If you are on a medication that works for you, then taking every prescribed dose is a good idea. Creating a mental health recovery plan BEFORE you become unwell is gold, too.
Funnily enough, by this point you may have noticed that all of these choices depend on YOU.
A common theme in our publications is to reach as far as you can in life. Psychosis is a scary experience, sure, but it’s really sad how many times I’ve met people who have allowed their fears of a recurring episode prevent them from wanting to return to study or work. Sure, maintain your mental state as best you can and be sure to get whatever help you need, but don’t let the FEAR of mental health issues hold you back from the life you want. Apply for that job, enroll in that TAFE course, and don’t let it win.